5 Things I Learned From Buying A Used Electric Car

December 9, 2020

5 Things I Learned from Buying a Used Car

Due to the pop­u­lar­i­ty of cer­tain elec­tric lux­u­ry sedans and SUVs, elec­tric cars have the rep­u­ta­tion of being expen­sive and inac­ces­si­ble to most con­sumers. In real­i­ty, many new EV mod­els are priced around what the aver­age car-buy­er is pay­ing for a new car in the U.S. these days (i.e. $37,000) even before fed­er­al and state incentives.

Even bet­ter, many low-mileage elec­tric vehi­cles (EVs) are avail­able to pur­chase pre-owned at stel­lar prices if you’re will­ing to look. I should know; in Novem­ber of 2019, I found an afford­able and gen­tly-used 2017 Chevro­let Volt. The car had only 25,000 miles on it, yet I paid half of its orig­i­nal MSRP — quite the bar­gain for a first-time car buy­er on a bud­get. Here are five things I learned from the experience.

1. Pre-Owned EVs Are A Good Value — And Sell Fast.

The rapid pace of tech­no­log­i­cal improve­ment means that new EVs can have near­ly twice the elec­tric dri­ving range as four-year-old mod­els. As ear­ly-adopters trade in their cars for more advanced EVs, buy­ers on the pre-owned mar­ket are left with plen­ty of good options at afford­able prices — a recipe for fast sales.

As I was car-hunt­ing, I noticed that EVs I saw online were often gone with­in a week of post­ing. When I stum­bled upon the car that was in my desired price- and mileage-range, I con­tact­ed the deal­er­ship the day after it arrived on the lot. The poor sales­man didn’t even have the time to learn how to adjust the seats before I came in. I arrived to inspect the car and con­firm its specs, it was a done deal.

One of my house­mates, who hap­pened to be in the mar­ket for a car at the same time I was, accom­pa­nied me to the deal­er­ship. Although she had no inten­tion of buy­ing an elec­tric car, she was smit­ten with the Volt after the test dri­ve. She end­ed up pur­chas­ing the one oth­er pre-owned Volt on the lot, right then and there. Two Chevro­let Volts, on and off the mar­ket in less than 48 hours!

2. I Drive In Electric-Mode Nearly All The Time.

The Volt is a plug-in hybrid, with an all-elec­tric range of 53 miles for dai­ly dri­ving and a gas engine for longer trips. Like a reg­u­lar hybrid, the bat­tery recharges when I break or coast down­hill. Although miles of elec­tric range doesn’t sound like a lot, about 80% of my total dri­ving miles over the last sev­en months have been on elec­tric­i­ty. Based on my dri­ving habits (most­ly city-dri­ving with the occa­sion­al trek for out­door activ­i­ties), a bat­tery elec­tric vehi­cle with 200 miles of range would have suit­ed me as well, though I was able to find bet­ter deals on the Volt at the time I was shopping.

I opt­ed to buy the Volt because I reg­u­lar­ly dri­ve to New Hamp­shire to camp and hike, so the plug-in hybrid fit my bud­get a lit­tle bet­ter. But the charg­ing infra­struc­ture around the White Moun­tains is bet­ter than you might think, and mak­ing the 360-mile trip between Prov­i­dence and the White Moun­tains is easy enough in a Bat­tery EV if you recharge while you hike or stop at a DC fast charg­er once along the way.

3. Charging In Public Is Easy And Usually Free.

As a renter, installing a charg­ing sta­tion at home isn’t an option for me. I rely on an out­door out­let and the charg­ing cable that came with my car for the major­i­ty of charg­ing. I share this out­let with my house­mate, who charges her Volt there, too.

How­ev­er, I’ve been pleas­ant­ly sur­prised by the avail­abil­i­ty and con­ve­nience of pub­lic charg­ing sta­tions. I use these resources as much as I can because most of these sta­tions are free to use. With the right tim­ing, I can get a full charge with­out pay­ing a cent.

While I don’t yet have access to charg­ing at my gro­cery store or gym, it’s easy enough to look up whether there are charg­ing sta­tions near parks, movie the­aters, or park­ing garages where I’m leav­ing my car parked. The pos­si­bil­i­ty of recharg­ing for free makes a lit­tle extra effort worth it. Since my car accepts both elec­tric­i­ty and gaso­line, I’ve found that it’s more incon­ve­nient and time-con­sum­ing to stop for gas than to check charg­ing apps like PlugShare, where I got the map of EV charg­ing sta­tions in the White Moun­tains used above.

4. Combustion Engines Are Loud.

The expe­ri­ence of dri­ving on an elec­tric pow­er­train is supe­ri­or in almost every way. The qui­et motor allows for bet­ter sound qual­i­ty when I’m lis­ten­ing to music or speak­ing on the phone. Every sin­gle pas­sen­ger I’ve had in my car has noticed and appre­ci­at­ed the dif­fer­ence. When I hop into a gas-pow­ered car to car­pool or rideshare, I find myself speak­ing loud­er to be heard over the roar of the com­bus­tion engine.

Since buy­ing my Volt, I’ve dri­ven two gas-pow­ered cars that I rent­ed while trav­el­ling. In both instances, I was under­whelmed by the lag time between press­ing on the accel­er­a­tor and feel­ing the car lurch for­ward. By com­par­i­son, the Volt’s ride, is smooth, respon­sive, and zip­py, an expe­ri­ence con­sis­tent among all elec­tric vehi­cles. I feel much safer dri­ving in my car, which responds instan­ta­neous­ly to my maneu­vers. It’s the kind of dri­ving expe­ri­ence you used to only be able to get with lux­u­ry gas guz­zlers, but in a eco-friend­ly, cost-effec­tive package.

5. Weather And Driving Style Can Really Reduce (Or Extend) Range.

I bought my car in Novem­ber, right as the New Eng­land win­ter start­ed to kick in. Although it was rel­a­tive­ly warm com­pared to pre­vi­ous years, I aver­aged about 40 miles of dri­ving on a full charge — notice­ably low­er than the Volt’s EPA-esti­mat­ed range of 53 miles. Through­out Jan­u­ary and Feb­ru­ary, it was so cold that the gas engine often kicked on to opti­mize the battery’s tem­per­a­ture and oper­at­ing efficiency.

The Volt, like many EVs, has a handy dash­board dis­play that assess­es the effi­cien­cy of my dri­ving style, as well as the ener­gy drain from ter­rain, cli­mate con­trol set­tings in the car, and ambi­ent tem­per­a­ture. When I speed, blast the A/C, or overuse my brakes, my effi­cien­cy score goes down and my range decreas­es. Hav­ing access to this infor­ma­tion encour­ages me to dri­ve more effi­cient­ly, and I have a lot of fun try­ing to get my effi­cien­cy score as high as pos­si­ble when I’m dri­ving. Although I know I have gaso­line to back me up if I run out of charge, get­ting famil­iar with the impacts of cold weath­er and dri­ving style on my range has allowed me to dri­ve my Volt as if it were a 50-mile range EV.

The Upshot

It can be scary to say “let me try some­thing new and get an EV” when mak­ing the big finan­cial deci­sion of pur­chas­ing a vehi­cle. But buy­ing a pre-owned elec­tric car is eas­i­er and more afford­able than most peo­ple might think.

Of course it’s an adjust­ment, but the val­ue of own­ing an easy-to-main­tain, cheap-to-fuel car is worth the learn­ing curve. Still unsure? I learned every­thing I need­ed to know about buy­ing an EV by writ­ing for Green Ener­gy Con­sumers. Reach out to me with ques­tions at .

Thank you to Mal Skowron for this guest blog fea­ture from Green Ener­gy Con­sumers Alliance. Ref­er­ence the orig­i­nal arti­cle here.

Skowron, Mal. "5 Things I Learned From Buy­ing A Used Elec­tric Car". Blog.Greenenergyconsumers.Org, 2020, https://blog.greenenergyconsumers.org/blog/5‑things-i-learned-from-buying-a-used-electric-car.

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